Last-minute tips for a low-stress, greener Christmas

Still scrambling for gifts?  Me too, in spite of my annual promise to self that it won’t happen again.

Here are a few ideas to help you cross those last names off your list – and tread more lightly on the planet in the process!

  • For the foodie, a share in a local community supported agriculture operation that will provide a weekly box of fresh, local food
  • Coupons for hair care, gym membership, home cleaning, snow removal, massages, theatre or dinner at a local restaurant
  • Homemade items like knitted goods, baking, preserves, soap and crafts


  • Shop secondhand stores for nearly-new clothing, books, music, electronics, furniture and more at a fraction of their original prices
  • Make commemorative donations to organizations that share your values: a homeless shelter, food bank, nature trust or animal shelter
  • Purchase carbon offsets for your friends. Learn more at

Even more ideas here.  So don’t stress out, and Happy Green Holidays!

Be light on the planet this vacation

Want the best vacation with the least impact on the planet?  Here are five tips:

If flying:

  • Travel as lightly as you can; every ounce that doesn’t travel with you saves fuel (and notice how baggage charges are starting to reflect that reality?)
  • Consider offsetting your air travel with carbon offsets; not perfect, but the best in the here-and-now

And whether you’re flying or not:

  • Walk, bike, paddle or use public transit as much as possible at your destination
  • If possible, choose a hotel that has a sustainability certification like Green Key, Green Seal or Green Globe (there are others too)
  • Choose local food and bevies (often much better tasting too!)

Thanks to Bullfrog Power for these tips; read more here.

Better ways to wrap

Wrapping paper, long a part of our holiday traditions, has an unfortunate downside: it’s not recyclable.  That’s because it usually has a very high ink content, may be laminated with non-paper materials and may have plastic, ribbons and glitter mixed in.

The good news: there are MANY alternatives to wrapping paper that can be as fun and festive.  Here are a few:

  • Paper gift bags that can be used over and over; or even home-decorated lunchbags
  • Fabric bags with festive designs
  • Festive scarves, or a square of seasonal fabric from your local fabric shop
  • Newspaper, especially the comics page; or any page decorated with homemade art
  • Cans, jars, baskets or tins (my wife intercepted a beautiful, large cookie tin on its way to the trash at a recent office event!)
  • Old calendars or maps (which can be big enough to wrap just about anything!)
  • Leftover wallpaper scraps

Seasons greetings and best wishes for 2017!


Two thoughts, many possibilities

I recently read a piece where the author confessed that her most vivid memories of childhood Christmases were not of gifts, but of people and traditions.  The author of another piece wrote that her own transition to a minimalist Christmas was prompted by waking up on too many boxing days with the sinking feeling that somehow, in the flurry of consumerism, the very best of Christmas had been missed yet again.

Two good reasons to aspire to a ‘less stuff’ holiday, and here’s a third: all that stuff isn’t very good for the planet either.

So here are some ideas to help you edge toward a stuff-less holiday:

Happy stuff-less holidays!

Why not use alternatives to glow sticks?

In recent decades, glow sticks have become popular, especially at parties, dances, concerts – and Halloween, of course! It’s no wonder: they’re simple sources of short-term light, available in a range of fun colors.

But the post-glow reality is that they’re really not very eco-friendly:

  • They’re not recyclable: besides the color-producing chemicals, glow sticks contain chemicals to keep the plastic flexible, and those same chemicals make the plastic unsuitable for recycling.
  • We use an awful lot of them: 100 million a year, according to one website on the subject
  • Some end up in the ocean: where they may be eaten by marine life or float for a long, long time.

What to do?

  • Reduce, the first R: strive to go without when possible
  • Use alternatives: for safety, consider reflective strips; for visibility, use an LED flashlight or headlamp. (For bonus points: power them with rechargeable batteries!)

Have fun and be safe for Halloween or your next social event – but strive to do it without glow sticks!

Uncluttering gifts

December 8, 2015

‘When it comes to presents, give uncluttering gifts a try’

It’s well known that decluttering our lives helps us have more energy, less stress and more happiness – and it’s also well known that prevention is better than cure. So why not opt for uncluttering gifts this year? Here are some ideas:

Massages, manicures, pedicures, movies, bowling, whale watching, art gallery memberships, cooking or craft classes, gift cards, a favourite recipe with all the ingredients included, a nice bottle of (local) wine, a donation to a cause or charity near and dear to the recipient’s heart (money, or some time volunteered by you on behalf of the recipient), free babysitting… you get the picture! Take a minute and you’ll surely come up with more ideas yourself.

Happy uncluttering Holidays!

Theme and suggestions courtesy of a column by Anne Marie Hartford with the above title in yesterday’s Fredericton newspaper.

Look for Fair Trade chocolate this Hallowe’en

Just about everyone loves chocolate – but here’s a bit of reality that isn’t so sweet: most of the world’s cocoa (the key ingredient in chocolate) is grown in West Africa by small producers who barely eke out a living, and child labour is widespread. The store that sells you a chocolate bar typically makes a lot more money on it than the farmer who produced the cocoa in the first place.

So why not look foFair Trader the Fair Trade logo when you shop for treats? Fair Trade is an international certification system whereby farmers receive a reliable and decent income that helps them live better lives, and can even elevate their families and communities out of poverty. And it’s not an empty certification: Fair Trade products are independently monitored to ensure they meet standards of financial and environmental sustainability.

Fair Trade products still only represent a small share of the total chocolate market, so you’ll have to look for them. But Cadbury, Ferrero, Mars, Nestle and Hershey’s have a few Fair Trade products and are working toward the goal of 100% sustainable, ethical cocoa by 2020. As well, a list of lesser-known brands presently offering Fair Trade chocolate (and other products) can be found here.

So – why not choose Fair Trade chocolate at Hallowe’en and anytime? You’ll be bringing a bit of sweetness to the lives of the people who grow it for you.

This week’s Green Idea is inspired by this recent article from my hometown newspaper:

Birthday Boy

A six-year-old boy decided that, instead of presents, he’d like to receive donations to help endangered species. So, through Earth Rangers’ Bring Back the Wild Birthday program, he chose to highlight his favourite animal, the wolf – and collected $85 to support Earth Rangers’ environmental programs. Beautiful!

If you’re planning a birthday party, why not make it a green one? You could do what Henri did, and here are some additional great suggestions from David Suzuki’s Queen of Green for having more fun and generating less trash.

‘Tis the season of…

December 23, 2014


A few years ago, a friend sent me an image of a plastic spoon, with this caption:

“It’s pretty amazing that our society has reached a point where the effort necessary to 1) extract oil from the ground; 2) ship it to a refinery; 3) turn it into plastic; 4) shape it appropriately; 5) truck it to a store; 6) buy it; and 7) bring it home is considered to be less effort than what it takes to just… wash the spoon when you’re done with it.”

So have loads of fun this holiday season – but why not strive to use less disposable cutlery, plates, cups and napkins?

The Fulfillment Curve

November 25, 2014

It’s well documented that spending on basic necessities gives us lots of fulfillment, and spending on creature comforts gives us some added fulfillment.

But beyond that, the more we spend, the less fulfillment we get. In fact, we actually reach a point where our happiness peaks – and spending beyond that point clutters our lives and makes us less happy. That peak point is called ‘enough’ – check it out in this illustration:

Fulfillment Curve

Most subscribers to this newsletter are, like me, blessed to be living in a land of plenty – and are probably, like me, beyond ‘enough’ when it comes to stuff. Consumerism may be good for our economy, but it contributes to resource depletion, climate change and other environmental challenges. Perhaps worse, consumerism has led us to worship stuff: it seems the more we have, the better. The cost has been an erosion of our spirituality, our relationships and our sense of community.

Perhaps there is a better way – one that involves pondering our own interpretation of what’s ‘enough’.

A sustainability thought on the threshold of Black Friday and the coming Christmas shopping frenzy. (Check out Buy Nothing Day,, the countermovement now present in more than 65 countries.)

Thanks to for the illustration.